No other fruit inspires so much love or hate, with little middle ground. It's banned in public places, but craved by addicts all over Southeast Asia. It's the region's most (in) famous fruit, durian.
The strange-looking durian enjoys a fanatical following that escalates particularly with rare and costly breeds. You don't have to spend too much to enjoy it: no visit to Southeast Asia is complete without sampling durian fruit at least once!
Eating Durian Fruit
With weights of up to seven pounds, a thorny armor, and unbelievable smell, the durian's title of "king of the fruits" holds strong. Durian trees actually grow so tall that a matrix of nets must be hung to protect workers on the ground. Getting hit by a falling durian would be seriously bad for your health.
In contradiction to its medieval appearance on the outside, durian flesh is actually soft, delicate, and creamy.
Durian fruit can be eaten with a spoon, much like a firm custard. The handful of large, stone-like seeds can be easily removed. The taste is reminiscent of the smell, but much sweeter. Some first-time durian eaters claim a strong aftertaste of alcohol or turpentine.
Eating durian fruit is simply mind over matter for Westerners whom are unfamiliar with the smell. The durian's odor is commonly associated with things that we find repulsive and wish to avoid - such as roadkill and sweaty socks.
The first time eater must convince the brain that what is being eaten is only fruit, is not rotten, and is actually nutritious.
With no middle ground, people either fanatically love the smelly fruit or are repulsed by it.
The Famous Durian Smell
The durian fruit's astonishing smell has been described in hundreds of ways - none of them pleasant.
Rotten onions, roadkill, dirty feet, vomit, sewage - people associate the unique smell to previous olfactory experiences. Love it or hate it, durian fruit is surprisingly pungent.
Animals, particularly orangutans, are lured by the smell of durian fruit from over half a mile away. The smell of durian fruit is distinctive, lingering, and persistent; the odor penetrates into fabric and remains on your hands after eating. Many hotels, subways, and public spaces in Southeast Asia advertise a no-durian-fruit policy with signs of the spiky fruit crossed out in red.
How can such an esteemed and expensive fruit smell so bad? A study conducted in 1995 found that esters, sulfur, and ketones - the compound responsible for "morning breath" - combine to produce the durian's powerful smell.
Nutritional Facts About Durian Fruit
With 13 grams of fat, 357 calories, and 66 grams of carbohydrates per cup (around 243 grams), durian fruit is certainly filling. Nutritionists recommend eating the fruit in moderation, one serving at a time - a difficult approach for most fans!
Fortunately, a lack of saturated fat and an abundance of fiber, minerals, and vitamins make up for the relatively high fat content. Durian is a generous natural source of magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, folate, thiamin, and other elements often missing from our on-the-go diet of processed foods.
Erotic and Addictive
Durian fruit also contains a high level of tryptophan - an essential amino acid found in chocolate - perhaps explaining why some claim the fruit to be addictive and difficult to put away once opened. For many, the durian fruit produces euphoria when eaten as a dessert. With prices between $8 to $15 per fruit depending on the season, durian can become an expensive habit!
The high level of estrogens found in durian fruit is thought to make women more fertile; the durian is considered a strong aphrodisiac in Indonesia. Because of so many little-understood compounds found in the flesh, many doctors advise against eating durian fruit while pregnant
Read more about food in Indonesia.
Do Not Drink with Durian Fruit!
Traditional Chinese medicine states that alcohol should be avoided after eating durian fruit.
Consuming alcohol after eating durian causes the blood pressure to rise and a general unwell feeling.
A Japanese study found that the high sulphur content, thought partially responsible for the durian's strong smell, interferes with aldehyde dehydrogenase - the body's process of processing toxins when drinking alcohol.
Where to Try Durian Fruit
Although originally native to only Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia, durian fruit can generally be found all over Southeast Asia. The durian was introduced to Thailand during the 18th century. Now Thailand has become the largest exporter of durian fruit and holds an annual World Durian Festival each May in Chantaburi.
The durian season in Malaysia and Indonesia typically runs from June to August. Fresh durian is far superior to trying frozen durian fruit during the off season. Durian tastes and smells different depending upon the region and season. Singaporeans claim that you must try durian fruit four times to get hooked - give it more than one chance!
Read about other must-try fruits in Southeast Asia.